Dr. Cormick's Accounts of his Personal Impressions of Mirza 'Ali Muhammad, The Báb
by Dr. Cormickcompiled by E.G. Browne.
published in Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion
"You ask me for some particulars of my interview with the founder of the sect known as Bábís. Nothing of any
importance transpired in this interview, as the Báb was aware of my having been sent with two other Persian doctors to see whether he was of sane mind or merely a madman, to decide the question whether to put him to death or not. With this knowledge he was loth to answer any questions put to him. To all enquiries he merely regarded us with a mild look, chanting in a low melodious voice some hymns, I suppose. Two other Sayyids,1 his intimate friends, were also present, who subsequendy were put to death with him2, besides a couple of government officials. He only once deigned to answer me, on my saying that I was not a Musulmán and was willing to know something about his religion, as I might perhaps be inclined to adopt it. He regarded me very intently on my saying this, and replied that he had no doubt of all Europeans coming over to his religion. Our report to the Sháh at that time was of a nature to spare his life. He was put to death some time after by the order of the Amír-i-Nizám Mírzá Taqí Khán. On our report he merely got the bastinado, in which operation a farrásh, whether intentionally or not, struck him across the face with the stick destined for his feet, which produced a great wound and swelling of the face. On being asked whether a Persian surgeon should be brought to treat him, he expressed a desire that I should be sent for, and I accordingly treated him for a few days, but in the interviews consequent on this I could never get him to have a confidential chat with me, as some Government people were always present, he being a prisoner.
1These were, no doubt, the two brothers Sayyid Hasan and
Sayyid Husayn of Yazd, of whom the latter was especially his amanuensis.
"He was very thankful for my attentions to him. He was a very mild and delicate-looking man, rather small in stature and very fair for a Persian, with a melodious soft voice, which struck me much. Being a Sayyid, he was dressed in the habits of that sect, as were also his two companions. In fact his whole look and deportment went far to dispose one in his favour. Of his doctrine I heard nothing from his own lips, although the idea was that there existed in his religion a certain approach to Christianity. He was seen by some Armenian carpenters, who were sent to make some repairs in his prison, reading the Bible, and he took no pains to conceal it, but on the contrary told them of it. Most assuredly the Musulmán fanaticism does not exist in his religion, as applied to Christians, nor is there that restraint of females that now exists.
. "ATTEMPT OF THE BÁBÍS TO SECURE TOLERATION.
"The story of the Bábís having reappeared in Tihrán, threatening the Sháh's life, etc. some time back, was partly true. The version of the story, as related to me by Sulaymán Khán, who was in Tihrán at the time and confirmed by others, is this. The Sháh, when out riding one day, perceived at some little distance a man mounted and equipped watching him attentively1. He immediately sent to have him seized and brought to him. The Sháh said, on his being brought, `I have observed you for some time past always following me when out riding, and as you are not a
1 The man to whom reference is here made was undoubtedly Mírzá Badí`, who brought Bahá'u'lláh's letter to Násiru'd-Dín Sháh from `Akká to Tihrán in July, 1869.
servant of mine, you are most probably a Bábí? To this the man, nothing daunted, replied that he was. On further enquiry he added that he was the bearer of a letter to the Sháh, and that he was seeking a favourable opportunity to present it to him, and that the letter was sent by their Chief, who had at this moment 70,000 Bábís obeying his orders. The Sháh asked for the document, which, being presented to him, was found to be a petition praying him to allow his sect, viz. the Bábís, to establish themselves in Persia and exercise their religion openly the same as Christians and other sects, [undertaking] that they would live peaceably under his rule and infringe no laws, [and] that if any doubt existed in the Sháh's mind as to their religion being the true one or not, he prayed that a conference might be granted between some members of their religion and some Musulmán Mujtahids and chief Mullás of Tihrán to discuss the points of difference between them. If they should succeed in proving that they were in the right, what further cause was there for oppressing them? If not, they consented to undergo any oppression the Sháh might subject them to, beginning by putting to death the members sent to discuss the points.
"This petition, it appears, had no effect upon the Sháh, for he ordered the bearer of it to be taken and tortured to find out if he had any accomplices in Tihrán; but he divulged nothing, saying that he was alone, and adding that the fact of his being killed was of no consequence, as the 70,000 Bábís under their Chief were all like him, ready to die for their religion, and no doubt other messengers would be sent to kill the Sháh at last, unless he granted the prayer of the petition. Under all the great tortures inflicted on him he remained firm, writing with a piece of stick on the ground till death put an end to his sufferings. After this
some little disturbance took place in Tihrán in searching for Bábís, but not with much result. The Bábís succeeded, however, in setting fire to an Imám-záda and burning it down. There was, however, no sign of any conspiracy existing. There are some people who think that both the Sháh and the Mustawfiyu'l-Mamálik with other great personages are disposed to allow the Bábís to exercise their religion openly in Persia, but the fear of the Mullás and their power to create a revolution against them, prevents them doing so."
"The above was found among papers belonging to the late Rev. J. H. Shedd, D.D., of the American Mission at Urúmiyya, Persia, in whose handwriting it is. Dr Cormick was an English physician long resident in Tabríz, where he was highly respected. The letter was certainly written and the copy of the extracts made before June, 1870. Mr Labaree is the Rev. Benjamin Labaree, D.D., of the same Mission as Dr Shedd. The letter was certainly written after 1862 and probably in 1869 or 1870, as Dr Labaree spent some months in Tabríz in 1869. An Imám-záda is the tomb of a reputed descendant of one of the Imáms, and, as such, a shrine. There are many such in Persia.
"W. A. Shedd."